Customs Disunion: Putin's Plans for Regional Integration Go Boom

Foreign Affairs

by Nate Schenkkan
Program Officer


On April 29, after months of anticipation, the presidents of Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Russia met in Minsk to put the finishing touches on the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), an ambitious plan to unite into a single economic entity. Observers from Washington to Moscow expected this meeting to be the last step before the official signing of the EEU treaty in May. But something went wrong.

Statements released just after the summit hinted at trouble. “If we are not ready to do it now,” Aleksandr Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, remarked, “we should openly admit it.” A few days later, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, noted that he was not in favor of “quick decision-making" about the union. In reality, both have acted increasingly wary of binding themselves too tightly to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his regional agendas.

The diminishing commitment of former Soviet Union countries to regional integration is a little noticed but critical side effect of Western sanctions on Russia. Russia remains the economic linchpin of the region, and costs imposed on the country are trickling down to Belarus, Kazakhstan, and beyond. In turn, post-Soviet leaders have started to reevaluate the wisdom of further integration with Russia. Sanctions may not stop Russia’s destabilization of Ukraine, but Western policymakers should embrace them for another reason: because they can put a nail in the coffin of the project that started the Ukraine crisis to begin with -- Eurasian integration.

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